In McQuaid, Rangers Find the Fight They Were Looking For

How the veteran defenseman can help the Rangers today and tomorrow

It took the entirety of the summer to accomplish, but the New York Rangers finally succeeded in adding a little punch — all pun intended — to their lineup. In exchange for seldom-used defenseman Steven Kampfer (who interestingly enough has been involved in a Rangers-related trade for the third time since 2014) and a couple of late-round draft picks, including a fourth-round selection in 2019, the Blueshirts acquired the rough and tumble, Adam McQuaid.

With training camp and preseason right around the corner, New York’s defense group, whose right-handed crop already included Kevin Shattenkirk, Neal Pionk, and Tony DeAngelo, will now include another righty in McQuaid. The fact that another defender was added speaks volumes about the front office’s comfort level — or lack thereof — with the current state of their blue line.

But McQuaid — a heavy-hitting, always willing combatant, renowned for his leadership qualities — represents much more than just another warm body added to increase the level of competition for open roster spots. He’s also more than just an anachronistic enforcer. He’s glue. As in the stuff that helps to keep a team together, in good times and bad. It’s for exactly this reason that despite being something of a salary dump by the Bruins, the 31-year-old, 6’4 blueliner can likely be of particular use to the bound-to-be-bad Blueshirts this season. And with just one year at $2.75 million remaining on his deal, the risk in taking him on (draft picks notwithstanding) is mostly, if not completely mitigated.

“It’s a tough day,” Brad Marchand told NBC Sports’ Joe Haggerty. “It’s difficult losing Quaider, who has been an incredible teammate for a long time. When you look around the room, you want guys like him. He’s just an incredible guy off the ice, and in the room. He’s a great friend, and as a teammate he’d do anything for the team and for each individual player.”

You can be certain that similar sentiments would be shared by any other Bruins player, executive, or even fan asked to speak to McQuaid’s character in the wake of the trade. None of which could be chalked up to canonization given the same things would have been said of him at any point in his career to date.

Targeted for both his physical qualities as well as his ability to mentor young players, it’s likely that GM Jeff Gorton — who has spoken to a desire to improve his club’s overall toughness this summer — understood that with a losing season and a second-straight trade deadline sell-off ahead of him, someone of McQuaid’s stature and reputation could help him navigate the rocky path ahead. While the Blueshirts have done an admirable job in collecting talented young players since the decision to liquidate at last year’s trade deadline, their immediate future is still bleak, which makes for treacherous terrain to traverse in the meantime. Thus, bringing along and developing important young players in that kind of environment becomes a difficult task in and of itself.

McQuaid might even make for a trade chip himself. With regard to the deadline, in highlighting McQuaid’s right-handedness, as well as his rugged nature and 500-plus games of experience (complete with a Stanley Cup ring), The Athletic’s Jonathan Willis astutely pointed out “that’s catnip for GMs.”

Remember: left-handed veterans such as Nick Holden, Ian Cole, and Brandon Davidson, who aren’t without their own warts, all returned third-round draft picks to their respective clubs. It’s no stretch to assume a righty, which teams covet every year, could do the same (or more). That alone could offset the cost of the fourth-round pick given to Boston to acquire McQuaid in the first place. Though this is all a bridge best left crossed when we get to it.

Of course, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. Despite being something of a staple on Boston’s blue line over the last eight seasons, McQuaid isn’t what he used to be, thanks to a combination of age and the abrasive style of game he plays. No one is exempt from the tax of Father Time, after all. Least of all those with a fight card like his.

McQuaid spent much of last season on the shelf recovering from injury and only managed to play in 38 games for the Bruins. He also found himself a healthy scratch on more than one occasion — both a testament to the power of Boston’s up-and-coming rearguards and a personal indictment on McQuaid’s play.

Never much of a scoring threat, McQuaid’s slip in play could be no more abruptly explained than by his relative possession numbers, which spiked into the negative last season compared to his career average. Though his 51.2 Corsi for percentage and 50.8 Fenwick for percentage aligned well with his career averages in both categories, his -4.6 CF% rel and -5.0 FF% rel had to be a concern for Boston considering both were more than twice as poor as the prior season. Thankfully, one season isn’t necessarily a trend (at least not one worth investing in), but given his age and style of play, it could be the start of a trend, and is a concern nonetheless. It might even be one that sees the Rangers limit the number of games he plays in (although, hopefully not to the same degree as Boston last season).

Still, it’s likely that Gorton believes McQuaid still has gas left in the tank enough to prove last season was something of an anomaly. Or, at the very least, to regress to the mean. Perhaps the totality of his injuries and the regression in his play can be chalked up to a bad year, exacerbated by the former, in which case the opportunity in New York could offer a bounce back. Or, if this truly is the beginning of the end for McQuaid, then the sole remaining year alleviates matters. Especially if David Quinn and the Rangers’ new coaching staff can salvage enough of McQuaid’s game to make him a desirable veteran commodity at this year’s deadline, all while benefitting from his professionalism and character presence along the way.

McQuaid’s addition also complicates matters for the resurgent hopeful, Brendan Smith, as well as the likes of John Gilmour and Tony DeAngelo. But competition breeds excellence insofar as the best-performing players are actually selected for this roster. Should McQuaid beat any number of the Rangers’ young defensive prospects — particularly those who are no longer waivers-exempt — the club could still opt to flip one for other assets. After all, there’s generally no shortage of teams willing to take on young reclamation projects.

Though the optics of a soon-to-be 32-year-old beating out youngsters isn’t great, it’s important to remember that McQuaid is something of a stopgap serving as a bridge to the most important blueline defensive prospects who are still years away like Libor Hajek and K’Andre Miller. None of whom he can reasonably be expected to block an NHL path from.

While it’s fair to question if the Rangers paid too much to acquire McQuaid, especially at this stage of his career, it’s suspect to question the character of the man they acquired. Just ask any of his teammates over the last eight seasons. I doubt you’ll find many, if any, with a bad word to say about him.

Character may be a derision-inducing buzzword in some hockey circles, but to the decision-makers and players around the league, it’s still a valuable and respected trait. With the Rangers projected to finish toward the bottom of the standings again, keeping the atmosphere around the rebuilding team as light as possible, especially as the deadline nears, is paramount.

It’s unlikely McQuaid will be a Ranger beyond some percentage of this season, but for as long as they have him, he’s sure to be a positive benefit to the guys in the room. He can also serve as a paving stone for Quinn’s “in your face” coaching style, at least on nights he plays. For a rebuilding team who are likely to endure more losses than wins, that can go a long way in establishing the kind of culture that’s needed to transition from loss to championship, even if he won’t be around to experience it.